Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest review – Spiral (2019)

My notes on Spiral

During an argument about fitting in with their new community, ‘out loud and proud’ Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) asks his more conservative-seeming partner Aaron (Ari Cohen) ‘what’s the equivalent of “Uncle Tom” but for gay people?’  Though it eschews a broad comic/satirical edge, there’s a sense for most of its running time that Spiral is the answer to the question ‘what’s the equivalent of Get Out but for gay people?’

In 1995, Aaron and Malik, with Aaron’s fifteen-year-old daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte), move to a small town and settle into a big, old house that (unusually and interestingly for the genre) is close enough to several other big, old houses to ramp up the paranoia of what the neighbours are doing – and whether they’re watching with hostile or curious eyes.  Malik, still traumatised by the apparent murder of an old boyfriend by homophobic thugs, isn’t surprised that someone gets into their home and writes ‘faggots’ on a wall and goes behind the less-wary Aaron’s back to have a security system installed.  One neighbour couple – Marshal (Lochlyn Munro) and Tiffany (Chandra West) — are friendly but embarrassing about having ‘one of you’ in the community, while an older man (David LeReany) glowers either in contempt or dementia.

Aaron settles in and Kayla starts hanging out with boy next door Tyler (Ty Wood), but Malik – as much a racial as a sexual outsider – starts unpicking mysteries, finding evidence that a lesbian couple were once murdered in the same house, but also having memory fugues which are conveyed by effectively jarring edits that suddenly bring on winter or involve leaps in character arcs, as a possible cult angle or supernatural thread starts creeping in.  It’s a rare horror film to trade on the universal fear of doing the wrong thing – of sensing threat but also being worried about responding with aggression to what might still just be innocent blundering, which climaxes at a sweet sixteen party that goes horribly awry.  Bowyer-Chapman is terrific, giving a subtle reading of a flamboyant role – digging deep for a vein of black comedy in a painful situation.  Everyone else in the film seems reasonable and easy-going, so the protagonist’s rising hysteria is even more at odds with his surroundings – and it genuinely hurts when Aaron winces at his partner’s behaviour.

Scripted by Colin Minhin and John Poliquin – directors of Grave Encounters and Grave Encounters 2 – and directed by Kurtis Harder – director of InControl, producer of What Keeps You Alive, Still/Born, Harpoon and others – this fits into a current cycle of films that tap into the current state of America – and, though it’s a Canadian film, the Stars & Stripes flutters over this town and Marshal talks about his deep American roots – by reviving the Rosemary’s Baby/Brotherhood of the Bell/Race With the Devil sub-genre in which deeply-embedded danger in society takes the forms of robed chanting covens.  The 1990s setting and cyclical curse lead to a 2005 coda in which the ‘other’ has changed – leaving it up to the viewer to guess who might be moving into the house ten or twenty years on.

Here’s the FrightFest listing.


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